Thursday, July 22, 2010
Network Security Intruders
Intruders’ Technical Knowledge
Intruders are demonstrating increased understanding of network topology, operations, and protocols, resulting in the infrastructure attacks described in the previous section on Internet infrastructure attacks.
Instead of simply exploiting well-known vulnerabilities, intruders examine source code to discover weaknesses in certain programs, such as those used for electronic mail. Much source code is easy to obtain from programmers who make their work freely available on the Internet. Programs written for research purposes (with little thought for security) or written by naive programmers become widely used, with source code available to all. Moreover, the targets of many computer intrusions are organizations that maintain copies of proprietary source code (often the source code to computer operating systems or key software utilities). Once intruders gain access, they can examine this code to discover weaknesses.
Intruders keep up with new technology. For example, intruders now exploit vulnerabilities associated with the World Wide Web to gain unauthorized access to systems.
Other aspects of the new sophistication of intruders include the targeting of the network infrastructure (such as network routers and firewalls) and the ability to cloak their behavior. Intruders use Trojan horses to hide their activity from network administrators; for example, intruders alter authentication and logging programs so that they can log in without the activity showing up in the system logs. Intruders also encrypt output from their activity, such as the information captured by packet sniffers. Even if the victim finds the sniffer logs, it is difficult or impossible to determine what information was compromised.
Techniques to Exploit Vulnerabilities
As intruders become more sophisticated, they identify new and increasingly complex methods of attack. For example, intruders are developing sophisticated techniques to monitor the Internet for new connections. Newly connected systems are often not fully configured from a security perspective and are, therefore, vulnerable to attacks.
The most widely publicized of the newer types of intrusion is the use of the packet sniffers described in the section above on packet sniffers. Other tools are used to construct packets with forged addresses; one use of these tools is to mount a denial-of-service attack in a way that obscures the source of the attack. Intruders also “spoof” computer addresses, masking their real identity and successfully making connections that would not otherwise be permitted. In this way, they exploit trust relationships between computers.
With their sophisticated technical knowledge and understanding of the network, intruders are increasingly exploiting network interconnections. They move through the Internet infrastructure, attacking areas on which many people and systems depend. Infrastructure attacks are even more threatening because legitimate network managers and administrators typically think about protecting systems and parts of the infrastructure rather than the infrastructure as a whole.
In the first quarter of 1996, 7.5% of 346 incidents handled by the CERT Coordination Center involved these new and sophisticated methods, including packet sniffers, spoofing, and infrastructure attacks. A full 20% involved the total compromise of systems, in which intruders gain system-level, or root, privileges. This represents a significant increase in such attacks over previous years’ attacks, and the numbers are still rising. Of 341 incidents in the third quarter of 1996, nearly 9% involved sophisticated attacks, and root compromises accounted for 33%.
Intruders’ Use of Software Tools
The tools available to launch an attack have become more effective, easier to use, and more accessible to people without an in-depth knowledge of computer systems. Often a sophisticated intruder embeds an attack procedure in a program and widely distributes it to the intruder community. Thus, people who have the desire but not the technical skill are able to break into systems. Indeed, there have been instances of intruders breaking into a UNIX system using a relatively sophisticated attack and then attempting to run DOS commands (commands that apply to an entirely different operating system).
Tools are available to examine programs for vulnerabilities even in the absence of source code. Though these tools can help system administrators identify problems, they also help intruders find new ways to break into systems.
As in many areas of computing, the tools used by intruders have become more automated, allowing intruders to gather information about thousands of Internet hosts quickly and with minimum effort. These tools can scan entire networks from a remote location and identify individual hosts with specific weaknesses. Intruders may catalog the information for later exploitation, share or trade with other intruders, or attack immediately. The increased availability and usability of scanning tools means that even technically naive, would-be intruders can find new sites and particular vulnerabilities.
Some tools automate multiphase attacks in which several small components are combined to achieve a particular end. For example, intruders can use a tool to mount a denial-of-service attack on a machine and spoof that machine’s address to subvert the intended victim’s machine. A second example is using a packet sniffer to get router or firewall passwords, logging in to the firewall to disable filters, then using a network file service to read data on an otherwise secure server.
The trend toward automation can be seen in the distribution of software packages containing a variety of tools to exploit vulnerabilities. These packages are often maintained by competent programmers and are distributed complete with version numbers and documentation.
A typical tool package might include the following:
password cracking tool and large dictionaries
variety of Trojan horse programs and libraries
tools for selectively modifying system log files
tools to conceal current activity
tools for automatically modifying system configuration files
tools for reporting bogus checksums